Chapter 11: Walking With a Ghost
"You deserve to be happy."
Hawke recalled the sweet voice that spoke to her in the darkness–it was Arya. The mage ran forward, nothing but darkness enveloped her, but it didn't matter. Arya was near.
"She's always loved you, and you have always loved her."
An ache spread through her chest as she kneeled on the floor.
"Arya, where are you?" Hawke pleaded. "Please, show me."
"I'm here." A light began to glow where Hawke had clutched–directly above her heart.
Hawke was comforted by the light, and spoke, "always."
"Always. But you must move on."
"I… I'm not strong enough. Not anymore." Hawke let her hands fall to the floor. "Love takes too much and leaves so little."
"Is that a truth meant to harm you or a lie meant to protect you? Hawke…"
Arya's voice faded away and Hawke felt a violent pull as the darkness suddenly collapsed, and Hawke was sitting upright in her bed at the Hawke estate.
"A dream?" Hawke rubbed her eyes and winced at the sunlight peeking through her curtains.
She laced her arms around herself and cocooned her body. Arya's voice shimmered in her head regardless of her self-made cocoon. No matter how hard she clenched her arms around her body, beams of light invaded her enclosure. Her bright blue eyes shied away, but her skin relished the natural warmth that it provided.
"Hawke!" A voice shouted from somewhere within the Hawke estate.
"Maker's breath what is it?" Hawke groaned but got out of bed nonetheless.
Before she could manage to even tie her robe, a familiar pirate came bustling into her room with a wily grin. Hawke stood still and didn't bother with tying her robe completely.
"Balls Hawke! It's almost noon and it looks so dark in here." Isabela pulled apart the curtains. "There! Much better."
"Isabela…" Hawke muttered as she winced and shielded her eyes with her hand.
"Come on, we've got places to go." Isabela chirped and quickly undid the loose knot on Hawke's robe. With little effort the robes were discarded to the side and Hawke stood starch naked in the glorious sunlight. Isabela smirked as she traced Hawke's figure with her eyes. "If we weren't late already, I would make use of this opportunity, but seeing as we are…" she pulled Hawke's under armor over her head. "I'll just have to revisit some other morning."
Hawke struggled to keep up with the pirate dressing her in her battle gear.
"Wait, Isabela, what's going on?" Hawke struggled to breathe as Isabela began to reinforce the armor on her thighs. "Late for what?"
"Now that's a secret, and we wouldn't want to spoil the fun too early." Isabela yanked on her arm and Hawke had no choice but to follow.
Isabela had been visiting Hawke on a nightly basis, and accompanying the mage on various, small tasks throughout Kirkwall, but going out for the sake of going out was not something they had done in years. Hawke eyed the mischievous smile that graced Isabela's face, and, for a brief moment, forgot her brokenness. She let the pirate drag her until they were on the outskirts of the Wounded Coast. Hawke's eyebrow rose as Isabela led them further towards a rather ominous looking cavern entrance.
"Hold on," Hawke pulled her arm back and took a firm stand on the hot, coarse sand. "Why would I want to go in there?"
"Why? Because I'm a pirate and like all noteworthy pirates I'm quite good at finding treasure. Varric himself told me about this location." Isabela stood tall and proud. Varric had indeed told her about the cavern they now stood in front of, but he had also mentioned that it wasn't a two-person kind of job. He had warned her about it being too much for just her and Hawke to tackle, but the pirate knew he was just trying to get in on her action. Hawke could handle herself just fine, and Isabela was ready for any kind of locks and traps they would encounter.
"Shouldn't we bring two more people?" Hawke had a bad feeling about the darkness in front of her.
"Hawke, this entrance is tiny enough as it is. Plus, we make a pretty good team for the most part." Isabela winked and was heartened by the mage's returning smile. "Come on, let's get to it you silly goose."
Hawke took one deep breath before she plunged in after the pirate. She wasn't expecting the sudden unevenness of the ground and lurched forward after taking a clumsy step. Hawke reached out for a cavern wall, or really anything she could hold on to, and felt a firm grip keep her steady. She snapped her fingers and had a small fire orb light up the area only to see Isabela a mere two inches from her face.
"If it weren't for the treasure, you might be in danger of better things than falling." Isabela's voice was velvety in the mage's ear, and her body pulsed with familiar warmth. "But lets get a move on before I ravish you here and now." Isabela chuckled and quickly put a couple of paces between her and the flustered mage.
Hawke scolded herself mentally for letting Isabela under her skin; no matter how familiar Isabela's tactics were to the mage, she was still affected by them. She let her small blush subside, sent a separate fire orb after Isabela, and began to follow. It became colder and damper the further they went into the cavern. So far there had been no signs of anything spectacular, and Hawke was beginning to think Varric's usually larger than life tales had led Isabela astray. Just when Hawke was about to suggest that they head back, they came upon a very strange contraption of wood and metal.
"Aha!" Isabela exclaimed as she ran forward to inspect the device. "This must do something." She carefully slid her hand over the gears.
Hawke felt a chill roll over her flesh, and felt a separate presence in the cavern. The alert mage poised her staff ready to attack, and nudged Isabela lightly as she backed up slowly towards her.
"We are not alone Isabela." Hawke whispered as the pirate continued to fiddle the machinery.
"Nonsense Hawke, here I think if I pull this–"
Isabela had pulled a lever and lo and behold a click in the distance could be heard. Hawke felt the ground beneath her shift and pushed Isabela towards the edge of the cavern as a hole opened beneath them. Isabela grinned at her very advantageous position between the rock wall and Hawke's warm body. She pulled the mage closer as there really wasn't much room for either to stand. It had been awhile since the rogue had been this close to her favorite mage fully clothed.
"Now look what you've done." Hawke muttered as she looked behind her at the intangible depths of darkness. "And there's your treasure."
Isabela looked past her mage and saw a chest raised on a platform in the middle of the darkness.
"Balls…" the pirate groaned.
"Nothing a little magic can't fix." Hawke channeled her mana and thumped her staff on the stone beneath her. Rocks began to converge and formed a small bridge towards the chest. The mage knew that she couldn't mess with the caverns structure too much lest it come crumbling down on both of them.
"Andraste's tits, Hawke!" Isabela squeezed the mage in a celebratory hug. "I'll pay you back for this later, captain's oath," she whispered into Hawke's ear before she slid out and walked towards the center.
"Isabela, wait, I still feel that other presence." Hawke stumbled after her, but Isabela had already opened the chest.
"Honestly Hawke, you– what… is this?" Isabela picked up the strangely bound book.
"It's a tome." Hawke examined it quickly and recognized some of its contents. "A grimoire to be exact."
"A book of magic?" Isabela pondered, as she felt drawn to its pages.
"Perhaps, it feels familiar to me– Isabela! Watch out!" Hawke pulled Isabela towards her as a shade swooped from above. "Damn it, I knew we weren't alone."
Isabela stuffed the book in her satchel and drew her daggers. Hawke summoned another bridge, directed Isabela to run and hurried after her as she cast spells towards the multitude of shades diving all around them. Hawke turned to see a conglomerate of demons and shades tailing them; more than a rogue and mage could hope to defeat. Isabela was more agile than her mage friend, but even she wouldn't be able to outrun these monsters. Hawke knew of one way they could escape, but it threatened their lives just as much. Hawke directed a bolt towards the top of the cavern and got the effect that she desired. The cavern began to cave in and gigantic boulders were crushing the demons. Hawke felt a burning feeling in her lungs as she continued to stride forward, but the pirate seemed so much further ahead than her. Isabela turned to see what the big commotion was and her heart jumped at the sight. Right behind Hawke was a horde of demons and giant boulders falling.
A fist-sized rock managed to hit the mage on her calf and she stumbled forward. Hawke quickly recovered but it wasn't enough. Another rock smashed against her head and she could feel the blood trickle down her face. Isabela felt cold as she saw the mage fall dangerously behind. She hastily pivoted and pulled Hawke along with her, but the pace they were going at wasn't enough. Up ahead, Isabela could see the light of the entrance. Just a little more and they would be clear. Hawke felt Isabela's support, and also saw the light, but she knew they wouldn't make it at this pace.
Without another thought, Hawke pushed the rogue ahead with her force magic and then stood still as she focused what little mana she had left. It coursed through her blood and she began to emanate with magic as she hurled a large force of magic towards the collapsing rocks and demons. It hurled them back and Hawke hoped it was enough to stop the rest of the cave from collapsing. Isabela regained her footing after being thrown to the ground ahead, and cursed Hawke for her suicidal tendencies. She turned to see Hawke standing in front of a large pile of rocks and demons. She smiled until she saw the mage's knees buckle and one final boulder came crashing down. Isabela's blood turned cold as she reached out towards Hawke.
The mage looked up at the massive slab of rock that would crush her entirely. It would kill her, Hawke had no more mana left and didn't have the strength to move. Hawke sighed and smiled–maybe she could be with Arya now; maybe it was okay to let go now. It was too painful staying here– a place that constantly reminded her of everything she had lost by what she had gained. Power and wealth were her constant companions, but it was love that she yearned for; love that she sorely missed, and it was no longer here. Hawke exhaled and waited for the boulder's weight to crush her.
"No! This is not the way my love." A calming voice called out to Hawke and she felt a swirl of energy envelope her. The boulder came crashing down but a light blue barrier shielded the weak mage. "I'm sorry." The voice faded and Hawke collapsed amongst the rubble.
Isabela ran towards Hawke's limp body and cradled her. She checked her pulse, and although it was faint, it was still there. Had Hawke erected that barrier? Isabela had caught her sadistic smile and thought she had seen Hawke forfeit her life.
"You ass, what were you thinking?" Isabela choked out the words as she held back her tears; she hadn't cried in ages. "What the hell was that smile for?"
"Isabela…" a voice echoed throughout the cavern. Isabela raised a dagger but kept Hawke pulled up against her.
"Who's there? Show yourself demon!" Isabela was ready to fight with her life.
"Don't worry Pirate Queen, I'm not a demon, not quite." An ethereal figure began to form in front of the wary pirate.
"Fereldan bi…" Isabela caught her tongue, "dog?" It certainly looked like Arya, if not a little more see through than usual.
The spirit laughed and nodded. "I see you haven't changed at all." Arya knelt by the two injured adventurers. "She really pushed herself this time." The spirit sighed and put her hand on Hawke's cheek.
"How are you here?" Isabela watched her hand cautiously; she had been fooled by demons once, Andraste's ass if she was fooled again.
"I came when I felt Hawke's life force wane, and you two somehow managed to make a considerable rift in the Fade. She was ready to just give up and die."
Isabela hesitantly swallowed Arya's painful words.
"Then you saved her?" Isabela asked.
"I did what little I could, but yes I suppose you could say I intervened."
"Why didn't you let her go? If she doesn't want to be here then–"
"Why did you let her go?" Arya's words sliced through her tough veneer.
"Because I'm not right for her!" Isabela shouted back at the damned spirit.
"And as a spirit, I'm not right for her anymore. She needs to let me go, and truly live in this world rather than spend all her time fantasizing about an escape." Arya smiled even as she felt her heart fill with pain. "She's always loved you despite your lack of 'rightness.' And you can't deny you feel something more than you admit. I've heard you yell out Hawke's name while making love with others, and here you are again, at her side."
"Yes, well, Hawke runs into good treasure, and she owes me a boat." Isabela muttered. "Look, I've hurt her enough already, I'm just trying to be a good friend… sex is just part of the deal."
"Who else have you had sex with since returning to Hawke?"
Isabela opened her mouth to say something clever but shut it at the lack of answers.
"Who do you trust to have your back? Who do you miss when you're in a land of strangers? Who is it that you came back for?"
"You don't understand." Isabela let out a small chuckle. "What you and Hawke were, we can never be. I'm a pirate after all, and she's the champion of Kirkwall. I don't stay in any one place for too long, and I tend to stray wherever my desire leads me. Hawke needs consistency, and you were the one that gave that to her. You showered her with love and all that sentimental crap. What I have to offer is so little compared to that… really, what you two had was beautiful. What we have is exciting… but nothing more. I'm sure I'm nothing but a mistake that she can't shake off; a bad habit of sorts. I'm content with that; it's enough for someone like me. I'm sure by now she's filled with the bitterness that my past actions are sure to have left behind. I had my chance, and I fled like the coward I am. No matter how much I may regret my actions, I must live with the consequences and continue to carve my own path."
"Yet you remain faithful to Hawke." Arya smiled as she lifted Isabela's downcast head. "No matter how much you stray, you have always been faithful to Hawke. It may take time for Hawke's heart to be fully open to you again, but she is not completely lost to you."
"Arya…" Isabela's voice cracked and before she could reach out and touch her, the apparition was gone.
Isabela cradled the mage and wondered if Hawke would ever walk by her side as a lover again, or if she would prefer walking with a ghost. Was Isabela so cold as to be second to dead? Isabela cried softly as she realized what she was pondering–she was going to chase Hawke, and this time she wouldn't run away. But would the mage have anything left to give?